I was asked recently what the differences are being the various server positions on a cruise. While it can vary from cruise line to cruise line, there are general positions that are consistent between the lines. The same goes for the entire hierarchy of the ship. Some positions have a different title from cruise line to cruise line, but the duties are generally the same.
Let’s start from the top. The Captain is the master of the ship. He oversees all departments and he is in control of the ship at all times. In fact, if the president of the cruise line is onboard, the captain is still in charge. The only exception, and it really isn’t an exception, is that when coming and going to port, a pilot will get on and will assist and sometimes take control of maneuvering the ship, however, the captain is still in control of the ship.
Second in command is a Staff Captain. Sometimes, this person is actually a captain, but at the time of a particular cruise, he is not in charge so he carries the title Staff Captain. In this department are also the First Mate, Second Mate, etc., Navigational Officer, Chief Engineer, pretty much anyone who’s duty it is to maneuver the ship.
The Cruise Director is in charge of all of your entertainment needs! They are one of the most recognizable figures next to the Captain of the vessel. The Cruise Director makes daily announcements, MCs the shows and oversees the production of the daily newsletter of going’s on. All of the entertainment staff reports to the Cruise Director. The daily activities that go on around the ship, from trivia to wine tastings to pool games, are organized by the entertainment staff and you will always see one of them at each of these.
The Hotel Director is in charge of all of the hotel operations on the ship. This includes Guest Services, Shore Excursions, Accounting, Restaurant, Housekeeping. I’ll go into just a few of these.
Guest Services is run by a Front Desk Manager/Guest Services Manager or Purser. He oversees the Concierge, Guest Services Officers, Shore Excursions and Cruise Sales, just to name a few of the duties.
The Housekeeping Department is overseen by a Chief Housekeeper, and then there will be Floor Supervisors, followed by Cabin Stewards/Stewardesses/Attendants. In some cases, you will be assigned two Cabin Attendants, but in that case, it is a shared tip position. You are not expected to tip both of them.
Now to Food & Beverages! The Food & Beverages Manager oversees all of the Restaurant and Bar operations throughout the ship. Each restaurant will then have a Restaurant Manager/Maitre D’/Maitre d’Hotel. This person oversees all operations in a specific restaurant. None of these positions are tipped positions.
Next in line is your Head Server/Head Waiter/Assistant Restaurant Manager. This person oversees a section of the restaurant and makes sure that all guests’ needs are met. If there is a problem with your serving team, this person is the one who will help to get you reassigned if necessary or work with your serving team to give you better customer service. The Head Server is also the one to talk to if you have dietary restrictions or allergies, special requests or special celebrations. Of the typical $12 per person per day tip, this person is to receive $1. Many people have told me they feel that the Head Server doesn’t do anything. If you have great service, no issues and no problems, you may not interact with this person, but that may also indicate they are doing a great job.
Next is the Server. Some may consider this person the Head Server because they are the ones that take care of your meal (on our Carnival Cruise, this was the case, but not on any other cruises we’ve been on). The Server is responsible to take your orders, bring your meals and make sure everything is to your satisfaction. The Server’s responsibility is also to make sure your dining experience is seamless. This means if there is a problem with the Assistant Server or Head Server in taking care of your needs, the Server will step up.
The Assistant Server is responsible for beverages, clearing dishes, setting silverware, serving coffee and tea and bread service. A good Assistant Server will anticipate your needs with beverages (and everything else). On a week long cruise, many Assistant Servers will notice that you like to have a Diet Coke with no ice, continually throughout your meal. Others will notice that you want one, ice cold, no refills. A great Assistant Server will be prepared for you. I have had some that automatically go and get a second drink to keep at the station for when you finish the first. Some people like that, I don’t. I think it’s great that they are prepared, but I don’t want my beverage watered down.
In general, these two work great as a team and cover each other when needed. If you ask a server for a drink though, he will either relay the message to the Assistant Server or send the Assistant Server over to get your order. As I mentioned, these two positions do work together and a great team is one where you don’t notice any gaps. I was on one cruise when we got our food before our silverware was set. I was on another one where the Server took the food back to his stand because the silverware was not set and then quickly got that done before the food was placed in front of me. Both instances showed that the Assistant Server was not on his game, but in the second one, it showed the Server stepped up. I noticed because I watch for these details.
In my opinion, unless the Server is horrible, you shouldn’t be tipping the Assistant Server more than you tip the Server. There are recommended amounts that the cruise lines set for tipping and if your service is exceptional, you should consider tipping more, but it should be in line with responsibilities and what was done. When we have had parties in our room, we have tipped our stateroom host more than the recommended amount to compensate for the additional work done to take care of us.
Of course, there is also the Beverage Manager who puts together all the bar menus, beverage tastings and specials in the bars. They oversee all of the Bar staff, including Bartenders, Assistant Bartenders, Bar Waiters.
There are many other crew members you will encounter on your cruise. One thing to remember is the ones who are in white with stripes on their shoulders are usually going to be officers. Those are the ones that it is appropriate to chat with briefly, share compliments and concerns with, but generally you wouldn’t ask them for help in getting a specific task done, like putting your luggage in your cabin or making you a cocktail. They would be the ones who supervise the folks doing those tasks.